4th Annual Philanthrophy Awards: Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation

Fresh Start Caring For Kids Continues to Change Lives in Chicago

Most recently updated: December 2020

Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation is devoted to making a difference in the lives of children with physical deformities.


The Foundation provides no-cost medical services to children ages 1 through 17 through surgery weekends and follow-up medical care. A majority of the surgery hours and follow-up care are donated by a group of medical professionals, from anesthesiologists to registered nurses. Insurance companies deem many of the surgeries that Fresh Start performs luxuries rather than necessities, and so, without insurance to cover the costs, families are left to either shell out thousands of dollars or choose to forgo the surgery altogether.

The Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation, 4th Annual Philanthropy Awards winner in the Health & Wellness category, has been growing rapidly since landing in Chicago more than six years ago. It’s based on a similar foundation in San Diego and is in partnership with the Plastic Surgery Foundation. Eventually, the center aims to be a model to be replicated around the country.

In Practice

“When we started in Chicago we had nothing,” Utica Gray, the National director of the Foundation says. “The first day I started was our first Chicago surgery weekend. We had a desk and a computer, no website, no staff.”

There is now a full-time staff of two: one registered nurse and Gray, the national director. Winning the Better’s 2016 Philanthropy Award helped the foundation go a long way toward educating the Chicagoland area about the work Fresh Start does.

“We intend to use the video to help us leverage marketing in the area,” Gray said. “So few people know who we are and what we do, so we hope it will spread the word and raise money and recruit patients.”


In 2016, winning the Philanthropy Award was Fresh Start’s proudest accomplishment in Chicago, Gray said.

“We’re so new; I think this is definitely the highlight,” Gray said. “It’s truly validation for all the hard work we’ve put in. Obviously we have a long way but it means so much to get this honor so early on in our existence.”

The foundation hosted its sixth fundraising gala in May, guest starring former White Sox player Jermaine Dye. They used the marketing package from the Make It Better Foundation to spotlight their fundraising efforts. Fresh Start received a few sizeable grants, which Gray says they will use to jump-start their efforts to market their work to the Chicagoland area.

“We can’t thank the [Make It Better] Foundation enough for stepping out and having faith,” Gray says. “We had a great first six years, and we’re really looking to build upon that success.”


Four years later, Fresh Start Caring for Kids has become a vital institution as one of the city’s leading medical centers for children’s health. In 2016, Fresh Start performed 28 surgeries and as of 2020, the number has increased to 95.

By the Numbers:

  • $0: the cost to the patient’s family for surgery and medical expenses
  • 20 surgeries ideally performed in the coming fiscal year
  • 95 surgeries performed by Fresh Start
  • $3.4 million in donated medical care (4.25x more than the $800,000 in 2016)
  • A $50 contribution would provide medical photography for one patient for one Surgery Weekend

Award Sponsor: Nancy Searle 

This article is part of our 4th Annual Philanthropy Awards series. Find more of our winners here:

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